Tuesday, September 10, 2013

9/11–What Have We Learned After 12 Years?

“There is something fundamentally unfair about a government that takes away so much of people's money, power, and personal control while telling them that life will be better as a result.” - Steve Forbes

“Remember the hours after September 11th when we came together as one to answer the attack against our homeland. We drew strength when our firefighters ran upstairs and risked their lives so that others might live; when rescuers rushed into smoke and fire at the Pentagon; when the men and women of Flight 93 sacrificed themselves to save our nation’s Capitol; when flags were hanging from front porches all across America, and strangers became friends. It was the worst day we have ever seen, but it brought out the best in all of us.” –Sen. John Kerry

As I took my morning walk this morning, I stopped and watched some young children playing at a local playground.

It is a beautiful sunny Tuesday morning and I am reminded that it is almost identical to a beautiful sunny Tuesday morning 12 years ago that became the worst nightmare in US history.

As I watched the children play and my mind replayed the events of 9/11, I reflected on what has changed since then.

And I wonder what we have learned.

Airline Security

Despite the billions we have spent on airline security, including advanced screening equipment and reinforced cockpit doors, there are still easy ways to get bombs on planes as well as techniques that can force pilots to open the cockpit door and give up control of their aircraft.

Our invasion of Libya also caused the “accidental misplacement” of thousands of shoulder-fired surface-to-air missiles capable of downing commercial aircraft.  Many of these missiles are believed to now be in the hands of Al Qaeda-friendly forces.

Ok … so we’re not doing so well there.

International Relations

On the international front, we continue to try random experiments with diplomacy in the hope that things will just work out perfectly by accident, with little or no knowledge or care of the downstream effects of our actions.

Examples ….

We embraced and even promoted the Arab Spring movement and watched it destroy proud nations like Egypt.

Iraq and Afghanistan are no more stable now than ever and in fact, in some parts of those countries, they are more lawless and dangerous now than they ever were.  What did our brave servicemen and women accomplish there despite the great sacrifices they made for themselves and their families?

Libya is now considered to be lawless and in ruin since we removed Gadhafi, with thousands of armed militants roaming the countryside and providing a training ground for tomorrow’s terrorist generation.

The complexities of Syria continue to simmer, with the US government willing to engage in a military strike even before evidence was available as to who “the enemy” was and with the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff admitting that he had no idea what the objective would be or what the downstream effect of a military strike would be.  Let’s not forget also that with Russia sending in defensive forces to back Syria, it wouldn’t take much to accidentally create a larger global conflagration.

And so our random experiments with diplomacy are doing little outside of creating more countries that are unstable, something proven to be a breeding ground for terrorists.

Hmmmm … we’re not doing so well there either.

Meanwhile back home

Meanwhile back home, our political leaders continue to brew a dangerous concoction that brings no peace to the world nor does it bring additional security to the citizens whom they claim to serve.

And just to complicate things, the threat of domestic terror along the lines of the Boston Marathon Bombing is something that many enforcement officials have indicated is practically unpreventable with current laws.

John Kerry’s 9/11 quote when he was Senator is wonderfully patriotic and yet conveniently glosses over the truth that decisions that he and his colleagues made helped draw the ire of terrorists in our direction in the first place.

It would be like a fireman setting fire to a building and then running inside, saving the occupants and proclaiming himself to be a hero.

The people who participated in the events that led up to 9/11 and who play games of random diplomacy get to enjoy security for themselves and their families for life while innocent civilians who care little for political, diplomatic and military tit for tat exercises pay the ultimate price.

I think of my friends who died that day in the World Trade Center, including but not limited to:

- Narender Nath, who saw the best in everyone.

- Stephen Fiorelli, a Port Authority engineer who stayed behind to guide the brave first responders.

- Eric Bennett, who was constantly helping and serving others as much as he could.

I think of my neighbor’s brother who died on Flight 93.

I think of my other neighbor whose office was across the street from the World Trade Center and who watched many of the people jump from the towers.  He was deeply impacted by the event and 6 months later was dead, having been so traumatized by what he saw that the images that replayed in his mind eventually took his Life.

These wonderful citizens, fathers, husbands and Life partners didn’t give a rats behind about what our diplomats and politicians did abroad and in fact, because of national security constraints, couldn’t have known even if they wanted to.

They didn’t sign up to fight any wars.

They didn’t volunteer to be sent into harm’s way.

And yet they paid the ultimate sacrifice anyway but have “the honor” of being publicly named at patriotic memorials every year.

I wonder if part of the problem is that once our leaders transformed from being those who lead people into battle into those who send people into battle, they become less aware of the real impact of their choices on the innocent.

If our leaders started losing their own loved ones as a direct result of their actions, perhaps they might have an incentive to think and act differently when it comes to the decisions they make. << Dear NSA.  That is an observation and not a threat. Stand down. >>


Why we remember 9/11

Someone asked me recently why we bother to remember the events of 9/11 and suggested that perhaps we should let it fade into the past and allow healing to take place.

The problem is that when we forget the events that led up to 9/11, we release from accountability those who have helped create it and those who continue to stoke the fire for the next big event.

An event that will probably once again exempt those who helped architect or contribute to it while sacrificing those who have nothing to do with it.

An event that we will claim took us by surprise.

An event that will draw a revenge response on our part.

An event that will add more names of the innocent to the lists that we read during patriotic memorial events.

We all play a role in this

We are not without responsibility in how 9/11 came to pass nor are we without responsibility for preventing such events from occurring in the future.

How we responded to Syria is an indicator that we haven’t learned a damned thing .… yet.

And until we start learning something from that painful day on 9/11, we must accept that the lives of those lost were indeed sacrificed in vain and that we are potentially worse off and in a more precarious situation than ever.

Meanwhile back at the playground

As my mind returns to the children in the playground, I think about the people who worry about the color of their next iPhone or whether their designer coffee has a little too much “whatever” in it and I wonder.

If we spent more time focusing on what is right for the next generation and not what is right for ourselves, I think we would realize the right thing to do, whether it’s in the selection of our leaders or how we hold our leaders to be accountable  in regards to domestic and foreign policy.  We would also know what our own responsibilities are for co-creating a stronger potential for future generations.

I think that the events of the world, while seeming to be chaotic and disturbing, are that way because someone benefits from allowing this to happen or from creating such an environment.  Sometimes the list of those who benefit is not always obvious as Esquire magazine generated extra web traffic this morning by showing this outrageous picture.  The picture is of an unknown man falling to his death from the World Trade Center on 9/11 accentuated with tasteless text added by Esquire.

I think that we need to work harder to be the voice for those who don’t have one (or don’t believe they do), to offer a hand-up to those who have stumbled, to show love to those who feel that love has abandoned them, to stand up for those who feel overcome by the world and to be the champion for those who seek someone to look up to.

I think that we need to work harder at being the light that lights someone else’s path.

I think that we need to work harder at being the salt that seasons the Earth and the great variety of Life that exists on it.

I think that we need to share more with those who have less.

I think that we need to help others follow their dreams as we need others to help us follow ours.

I think that we need to move beyond labels that differentiate us and seek the things that unify and unite us.

I think that we need to model the behavior that we want to see in future generations.

I think that we need to try harder to live every day as if it might be our last …. because eventually that does become our reality.

And finally, even as an optimist I think that the world only gets better when we make a choice to make it that way, that a world of unlimited potential doesn’t happen by accident. 

While it would be great to write a heart-tugging, peace-and-love-overcomes-everything blog, history teaches us that the world and humanity don’t work this way.

Or can I be proven wrong?

I would like to be.

What do you think?

In service and servanthood,


Addendum – September 11, 2013

In the days that followed 9/11, I found myself repeatedly playing a song by Styx.

The song came to mind again this morning.  Here it is …. “Show Me the Way”.

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